Incubation

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
This thriller reveals how the world's spying is undergoing a sea-change and perhaps why.

Set in the backdrop of the happenings in South Asia and the acts of terrorism, this champagne fiction also explores the soft side of human relationships between hard-boiled professional spooks.

Diplomats working for western nations based in Chennai commented thus: "It is hard to discern the fact from the fiction!"

Submitted: April 16, 2012

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Submitted: April 16, 2012

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London March 2009
 
 
 
After clearing immigration and customs at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 4, as I always do after a long plane ride, I checked my emails from my laptop sipping hot chocolate in a cafe in the arrival hall.
 
 
 
One of the messages was cryptic.
 
 
 
Reaching Vauxhall tube station should be fairly easy within 60 minutes to take charge of your new irresistible, lovable, responsibility.
 
 
 
Taking the Piccadilly Line at the airport and changing at Green Park into Victoria Line to alight at Vauxhall was almost like walking to me.
 
 
 
As I came out of the station, I saw a 4-year-old nattily dressed boy with pronounced sub-continental features standing unattended, silhouetted against the dun morning sky holding a placard that simply said, “Vikram” gazing expectantly at the exit. .
 
 
 
It was just a little after half past seven in the morning.
 
 
 
Vauxhall in central London just a wee bit south of River Thames usually has few passersby at that time of the day.
 
 
 
Situated close by are the headquarters of what the world generally knows as MI6 (or Military Intelligence 6), whose correct name is Secret Intelligence Service.

 
 
Thanks to its being within a stone's throw from the British government's main establishments, Vauxhall is a high security zone as its residents include former British Prime Minister John Major, Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Maclean Darling, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Kenneth Clarke and bestselling author Jeffrey Archer.

 

Therefore, one rarely encounters what Londoners call an activity called "Busking" in the vicinity.

 
 
Denoting performances of poor musicians beside an open hat it implies the casual audience should contribute a few pennies.
 
 
Though the Metropolitan Police officials have never been known to discourage any harmless homeless person from inhabiting any part of London, those without valid reasons to be in the vicinity avoid loitering aimlessly in this seemingly ordinary unguarded part of the British capital as it is public knowledge that the apparent veneer of openness is as phoney as a three Bob note.

 

Security is a serious global fetish after terror attacks in various parts of the world disrupted lives of the common public and VIPs alike.
 

Britain is no exception.
 

“That is my name,” I told the child quietly.
 
 
 
The boy shook his head vigorously and said, “No English!”
 
 
 
“Tamil?”
 
 
 
He nodded.
 
 
 
I requested the boy's identify in his mother tongue.
 
 
 
“Shaalivahanan.”
 
 
 
The strange name has special significance to India.
 
 
 
The official Hindu calendar is believed to have begun with the era of Shalivahana. He defeated a mighty Hindu emperor Vikramaditya roughly 2000 years ago in the city of Ujjain, now in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh with an army created out of toy soldiers.

 
 
I mention the era regularly as a prelude during my monthly religious rites for my late parents.
 
 
 
The boy handed over a card wordlessly.
 
 
 
Memories came flooding as I read what was written on it.
 
 
 
Chennai, some four months back...
 
 
 
My regular fixer announced he had found someone new.

 
 
I liked variety and agreed for a tryst in a well-furnished flat in Saligramam, an upmarket suburban district in southwest Chennai.

 

Vanita was indeed very beautiful.
 
 
Clad in jeans, she seemed new to the oldest profession, eager and cost me next to nothing.

 
 
Obviously, I wasn't her first male sexual companion.

 
 
During the process of physically comforting each other, Vanita spoke decent Telugu albeit in an accent I could not connect it to any region in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, despite having been born with it.


I am generally good at detecting and mimicking accents and possess a lot of other tricks as a director of a little known Indian intelligence agency.
 
 
 
Not too particular about my methods, I am answerable only to someone connected with the Prime Minister’s office in New Delhi who is never seen the vicinity of Race Course Road.

 

Though not exactly a law unto ourselves, I and my colleagues are almost that.
 
 
Despite not being James Bonds, one of our front companies is indeed called Universal Exports with a proper corporate suffix.

 

We use the recently developed concept - "business incubation" for all our endeavours.
 
 We distribute a steady supply of technical inputs, critical information of viable markets and ensure the continued well being of our paying clientele - comprising mostly start-up companies.

 

Our methods are designed to arrange win-win situations to everyone concerned - government, corporate entities and individuals.
 
 
Success stories created by us are so far unaware of their being cogs of a subtle giant machine whose raw inputs of commercial prudence and intelligence inputs produce tangible results against the scourge of terrorism besides improving national economic indices.
 
 
Though part of our expenses originated decades ago through central government grants, we are now self-sustaining, profit-making ventures.
 
 
Called independent intelligence gathering units (IIGUs), we circulate classified information internally through email addresses never accessed more than once.
 
 
Our commercial arms function openly and pay all statutory taxes and accord employees remunerations considered good by private sector standards.

 

Our profits after taxes fund local and foreign deep cover operations.
 
 
Our highly secretive recruitment process is based strictly on educational merit and stringent security checks.
 
 
India's governmental reservation system is not applicable to us as we only have uses for those who are better than the best.
 
 
Upon being hired, each one of us creates dozens of properly-documented “cover stories” to help us work anywhere in the world legally.

 
Sometimes, some of us use perks available in our line of work as consumers' surpluses to release our tension that cannot be disclosed to anyone.

 
For me it was also a physical need after a messy divorce.

 

I could not tell my wife that we had to part because the regular security check on her set off a mild alarm.
 

My inability to compromise my job prohibited any future contact with her.
 

It resulted in our cold separation.
 
 
Most female bordello owners in all Indian metropolitan cities start as movie-career aspirants from Andhra Pradesh, Punjab or Nepal and progress the hard way through sexual abuse.


While most live and die unceremoniously, a small minority achieves financial security under our guidance. Their on screen successful track records or off screen access to movers and shakers everywhere is the only parameter under which they freelance for us.
 
 
A former screen goddess once helped topple a state government by keeping its horny chief minister occupied in a remote guest house while his party legislators were being horse-traded to solve a need based political crisis at the behest of one of my legendary seniors. 

 

I parted with my mobile number to Vanita as she seemed like a future asset.
 
 
Not being a habitual womaniser, I almost forgot about her.

 

Exactly 92 days after our only tryst, there was a phone call from a number, which I did not recognise.

 
 
“Yes?”
 
The Telugu accent of the voice coming through the receiver was spicy enough to trigger a bucketful of mucus discharge from my sharp nose.
 
 

“I want all your contact details – landline and mobile phone numbers, office and residential addresses to start with,” the voice said brusquely.
 

 
I abruptly disconnected and fixed my gadget to disallow calls from that source.

 

I could have changed my number, but I did not.
 
 
Firstly, there was no need to and secondly the process to acquire what I possess is cumbersome.

 

The phone company is prohibited from disclosing the details of my number as a purely commercial arrangement.
 

If it ever does upon official enquiry, investigators will wade through seven layers of fictitious information cul-de-sacs.
 
 
Regardless of the stalker’s official position, attempts to peel off each layer would be instantaneously relayed to me through my Blackberry without the knowledge of my adversaries.

 

In the worst case scenario, after the third attempt, while I can surrender the phone quietly with its seventh address, the fact that would finally emerge is a single word legend "classified".
 

It can only be undone by our National Security Advisor who obviously has better things to do.
 

Nevertheless, I sent a computer virus to the mobile company’s servers erasing entries of all calls made from the batch of mobiles that were sold to some 157 persons along with mine for the past six months.
 

Anyone looking for me would have needed to search for a non-existent needle in a huge haystack.


My caller didn’t.


Meanwhile, I traced the number to a police official in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh. Two phone calls later, I had the basic information.


 
Someone called Vani had been arrested while trying to pass fake five hundred rupee notes worth Rs.10 lakhs.

 

The captor – a deputy superintendent of police had accessed her diary and found my mobile number and name.


 
Vani...could it be Vanita?

 

A day later, I had all the details.
 
 
My former temporary female companion, it seemed, was an amateur counterfeiter who used a silly alias.
 
 
I threatened my fixer with dire consequences adding a highly exaggerated version of the arrest, forbade his future calls and for good measure and fixed my gizmo to reject future calls from his number.

 

He did not have any of my addresses or landline details.
 

I knew for certain that he would immediately delete my number and thought that would be that.
 
 
 However, I arranged for tip offs on all developments on Vanita's case.
 


A fortnight later, someone from Vellore, a small town 250 km southwest of Chennai, called me and referred to Vanita and requested a rendezvous with a contact in Renigunta, a railway junction in the outskirts of Tirupati – a temple town some 300 km north of Chennai.
 

Since I never leave any suspicious stone unturned, I reached there within the hour after a short flight, carrying a small nondescript bag containing a few disguises.
 
 
Stupid movies have led most people to believe that these mean wigs, false beards and prosthetic makeup.

 
In real life, the professional exercise is very subtle and rarely detectable.
 
 
The small airport is situated in the middle of nowhere between Tirupati and Renigunta.
 
During the 3-km walk to the railway station, at a deserted spot, I donned cheap, striped shorts, draped a single piece of long, thin white cloth called Dhoti over it appropriately folded above my knees revealing hairy thighs and the jutting underwear.

 

A slightly torn upper under-garment visible through an unbuttoned shirt formed the first layer of my camouflage.
 

My regular attire along with the blackberry on vibrating mode was hidden in an overnight brown knapsack.
 

Continuous chewing of a mixture of betel leaves, nuts and a glob of edible, wet powdered limestone purchased from a roadside outlet lent my mouth an ochre colour - usually a characteristic found amongst peasants.
 

The dust whipped up by a gentle breeze settled on my face and attire along the way.
 

By the time I purchased a reserved ticket for a train due to leave around noon the next day to facilitate my stay in the station’s dirty, second class waiting room overnight, I was as good as the faded tourism posters on the platforms' grimy walls.
 

For the next nine hours, keeping awake by gulping cups of sweet tea, I cased the joint thoroughly.
 

My lone quarry arrived one hour before time around 8-30 am like a neon sign on two legs.

 
The fidgety man looked for tails by glancing furtively at glass windows betraying signs of an amateur spy.

 
After watching him stew in his own juice for the next two and a half hours, I was sure he was alone and clean.

 
I accosted him suddenly when he began cursing disgustedly at being stood up - an obvious pointer to his impending departure.

 
“Are you Veerabhadriah?” I asked him in an accent that fit nicely with my rustic appearance.
 
 
The startled man stared at me with disbelief and to my surprise, replied in Tamil.
 
 
“Oam,” he said.
 
 
Having discerned after he uttered his first word that he knew as much Telugu as I did about the Martian surface, I spoke in a pidgin mixture of Telugu and Tamil to help him comprehend.

 

His accent belonged to Velvettithrurai – the birthplace of Veluppillai Prabhakaran in the northern coast of Sri Lanka.
 

He is the shadowy leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – the terrorist group that had among others, assassinated former Indian and Sri Lankan leaders Rajiv Gandhi and Premadasa.
 
 
The two elected heads of state had contributed to Prabhakaran's success as a dreaded terrorist ringleader, who could carry out attacks on Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo at will.
 
 
During its relentless push, the advancing Sinhalese army had encountered few signs of Prabhakaran's presence as it was closing in on the Tigers' last stronghold of Mullaitheevu on the northeast Sri Lankan coast.
 
 
 The LTTE had retreated from Kilinochchi – the so-called capital city of the LTTE's Tamil Eelam a few days earlier.

 

Situated a little inland, it passed into the hands of Prabhakaran's Sri Lankan foes as a ghost town.
 
 
“Veerabhadriah” hinted that Prabhakaran was ensconced probably somewhere in Europe and went on to divulge the terrorist’s planned chaos for the Indian economy through fake currency palmed off in rural areas, use the profits to work the Indian stock markets which would in turn finance his Indian fissiparous apologists' incessant clamour for a ceasefire globally to keep the civil war in Sri Lanka alive as long as possible.
 
 
I pretended to be disinterested.
 
 
 Veerabhadraiah's unaided bragging about the LTTE in an attempt to impress a Telugu peasant with apparently no knowledge of the Tamil cause helped me glean enough about the terrorist rump's latest tactics, its links with other terrorist outfits like Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s ISI in all of 30 minutes.
 
 
“Veerabhadriah” finally sneered at my connection with Vanita.
 
 
“Presumably you are another pimp who also exploited Vanita.”

 
“May be.”

 
“Who are you really?”
 
 
“If your intention is to help Vanita, let us just get that job done,” I said bluntly in chaste, cultured Tamil, mimicking his accent albeit in a steely tone.
 
 
Realising he was talking to a professional, Veerabhadriah began to cough up more.

 
As the operative portion of his monologue ended, I suddenly began to move away from the puzzled, bewildered Veerabhadriah – or whoever he was.

 

Yelling questions, he ran after me and walked into the hands of agents from our main spying agency Research and Analysis Wing - waiting for such a moment at the station's exit, looking part of the scenery.
 

I simply did not care what happened to him afterwards. 

 
I jumped into a three-wheeler that took me to Tirupati.

 

After the rickshaw drove away with his fare and a good tip, I calmly walked to a predetermined spot to enter a waiting private taxi in the sure knowledge I was not second-guessed.
 
 
Having dealt with amateurs in Sri Lanka for long and a few local slack officials in Tamil Nadu, the terrorist organisation had grown soft and therefore, was a sitting duck with markers for persons like me.

 
For the rest of the world that did not take chances at all, the LTTE simply did not matter, as its demand of a separate homeland called Tamil Eelam was in a part of what had long ago ceased to be of any worthwhile geopolitical importance.
 
 
Regardless of his being present in Sri Lanka or elsewhere, Prabhakaran had become stale news as at best he could only be of nuisance value to Sri Lanka, or so I reckoned.
 
 
On my way back, on the basis of Veerabhadriah's inputs, I tipped off my contact within the US Consulate about the printing press in Sivakasi - a town 500 km south of Chennai with over 500 units that manufactured firecrackers and known rarely known for its state of the art printing units where US dollars notes worth over a billion had been counterfeited with surprising efficiency on appropriate imported paper.
 
 
I added the exact address of the current location of the stash.


Thanks to its excellent connections with various wings of Tamil Nadu’s police force, the diplomatic mission ended that illegal enterprise swiftly and cleanly.
 
 
I also asked a colleague to help Vanita.
 
 
“When the inevitable remand period ends, please wipe her slate clean, Bhagwat. Thanks to her, we have the latest on the LTTE and a lot of info on its nefarious activities. Plus she was indirectly responsible for giving us a lead on the counterfeiting operation.”

 

“Consider it done!”
 

No doubt, my counterpart in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh would deduce part of the truth, but that was par for the course.
 


Two days later, there was another phone call from Vanita herself.
 
 

“Our affair, my dear, is over. Your caper has landed me a jam. I do not want to know you anymore.”

 
“Do the letters IIGU mean something to you?”
 
 
“Should they?”
 
 
“My real name is Shivapunniyam. And my codename in India is Amelia Louis. I am...”

 
“Wait! I will call you back...”
 

Before I could complete the sentence, she said something that sent a chill up my spine.

 
Suddenly, I heard a screech of tyres and the familiar rat-a-tat of an assault rifle –the infamous AK 47.

 
Vanita was clearly beyond help.
 
 
My phone hadn't shown any caller id and hence her body could have been anywhere.

 

I, however, had other things to worry about.

 
Within seconds I rang my contact in New Delhi and ensured the spread of a soundless, opaque blanket to prevent news-leaks on television cameras or the print media and began providing inputs to the urgent, ensuing operation.
 
 
Within minutes, our elite army commandos swung into action.

 
Some of the worst nightmares of the free world are shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles used by terrorists that can hit airplanes.

 
The success of such these weapons, so far, have been limited.


Having laid their hands on Soviet made SA-7 (a seventies’ product), Islamic terrorists tried to bring down an Israeli jet over Kenya in 2002. At that point in time, they were known by a funny name – MANPADS or Man-Portable Air Defence Systems.

 
Smugglers who tried to sell variations of these to terrorists in New Jersey in the USA were nabbed in 2003.
 
 
That year, the American Department of Homeland Security upped its annual budget to US$60 million to defend its 6800 plus commercial jets.

 
While the present ante for this is a closely guarded secret, one can safely say that adequate security measures are in place, not only in the USA and Canada, but also in the UK, most of Europe, Middle-East, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

 
Though almost antique by modern standards, the well-known versions of shoulder-fired missiles viz. the Soviet SA-7, the Chinese HN-5, the American Redeyes and Stingers collectively numbering over 150,000 are still considered rogue weapons in the hands of worldwide, untraceable terrorists.

 

Any greenhorn desperado can use it.
 
 
A terrorist lurking around the periphery of any commercial airport can take rough aim at a jetliner’s exhaust after an infra-red lock indicated by a beep and simply pull the trigger.

 
 
With its range of 15,000 feet, the missile is arguably capable of honing in on its intended target killing all its occupants - ranging from one to hundreds, painfully in a ball of fire.
 
 
 
The only safeguard, if any, is the ejection of a decoy duplicating a plane’s hot wake that could “fool” the missile, draw it off harm's way as the jets quickly ascend skywards, out of range.

 
 
Indian aircraft – military and civilian do not possess these.
 
 
 
Indian Air Force pilots can of course climb up steeply and exceed the missiles' range – provided they visually sight the damned things.
 
 
 
Dressed in civilian attire, our army commandos almost noiselessly stormed 17 places in Tamil Nadu including six hideouts in Chennai within the next 11 minutes and retrieved 93 Chinese made HN-5s - the exact number disclosed by Vanita.
 
 
 
Since my colleagues had tied up the logistics side in Tamil Nadu tighter than a clam, none in the media spotted the seizure of the bagged weapons.
 


The world at large does not know that terrorists are basically cowards whose bravado is strictly meant for the output of eager television cameramen controlled by amateur peacenik reporters and anchors lapped up by gullible, terrified viewers in the safety of their homes.

 
 
Knowing they had little chance of a getaway after spotting the grim, professional determination of the commandos, the terrorists gave themselves up quietly, perhaps in the hope that in future, some hijacked plane with Indian passengers would spring them.

 

With the help of loaded, hidden handguns, the terrorists were frogmarched away with virtually zero fuss.
 

Messages were despatched to the world’s leading intelligence agencies to report the recovery along with requests to trace the sources of the weapons.
 
 
Later, our military experts found that the missiles' range had been increased to over 40,000 feet by the combined engineering killjoys belonging to the LTTE, probably Al Qaeda and possibly Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence - the world's only "legal" sponsor of terrorism.
 
 
Though I will not disclose the methods of our interrogation, I can safely reveal that our best interrogators have little faith in the productivity of third degree.

 
 
A combination of its cleverly stage-managed suggestions, implied threats and critical questions always produced better results.

 
 
The LTTE and Muslims love each other in Sri Lanka the way snakes love mongooses despite both being Tamil-speaking.

 

The largely docile Islamic merchant community in the island was chased away from its properties and businesses with a deadly permutation of murders and physical attacks by the LTTE.
 

In the macro global terrorism equation, however, Al Qaeda and the ISI do not mind being in cahoots with virtually anyone – so far as purposes of spreading global psychosis of fear are served.
 

The LTTE is one such ally.
 
 
After the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai when a hardened Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasav was taken alive in full view of television cameras, Pakistan is stalling realistic action against its home-made terrorist camps while India is continuing its evidence-backed harangue.
 
 
Eventually, everyone in the world will inevitably forget the whole thing till another incident raises everyone's hackles.

 

The publicity actually increases the effectiveness of human machines of terror.
 

Not willing to cede a second of undeserved exposure, we have kept the whole thing under wraps.
 

The dozen guys and three gals belonging to four different nations nabbed with the weapons – of course had a convoluted reasoning for their botched mission.
 
 
All of them believed the Government of India was helping Sri Lanka’s military moves against the LTTE and wanted to scare us into submission and thereby mete out their version of justice and restore a strange parity between terrorists, legal governments and the inevitable innocent victims of their actions - the common public.
 
 
Though the chairperson of India's ruling coalition government - the United Progressive Alliance and President of the Indian National Congress – Sonia Gandhi has a perfectly justifiable reason to hunt down the LTTE operatives to the last man/woman after some from the outfit had assassinated her husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, the fringe separatist political elements in Tamil Nadu and the brainwashed LTTE cadres they support have never cared to decipher the simple fact that sovereign regimes never work on the basis of anyone's personal vendetta.
 
 
The world at large has realised long ago that like cancer, terrorism needs to be physically excised whenever and wherever it affects the global political physique.

 

Platitudes like the treatment of symptom ignoring the cause are fruitless arguments of loser-protestors.
 

Our civilian and military airports in India are now comparatively safe.
 


Detailed debriefing of the captured terrorists and pieced together intelligence revealed that Vanita had been sexually abused not only in Sri Lanka but also abroad by her controllers, forced to learn Telugu and multi-tasked as a tool to snare someone big in India.
 
 
While identifying and assessing the exact critical compromises of our vital secrets by those gratified by Vanita's sexual favours would take some more time, as my cover was blown, I carried out pre-determined instructions immediately.
 
 
Knowing my relievers would access my assiduously created daily reports, the keys and effects of my unit mailed from elsewhere I would never know their identities.

 

Our compartmentalised functioning methods take no chances.
 
 
I booked my ticket to a destination in India that I will not disclose now using an untraceable debit card meant only for such occasions.
 
 
With nothing other than the clothes being worn by me, a small wad of cash and a pack of cigarettes, I checked in at an airline's counter in Chennai’s Kamaraj domestic air terminal an hour later.
 
 
There is a small enclosure on the first floor beyond the security-check area where one can smoke.
 
 
A white Caucasian male clad in an Indian style collarless shirt was puffing away a cigarette reading from a bulky file.
 
 
As the security personnel had taken away my throwaway lighter, I lit mine with his smouldering butt.
 
 
“Smokers of the world unite!” he said, parodying the famous quote from Vladimir Lenin for workers.
 
 
Liking the comment, I smiled.
 
“You seem lucky...travelling light. I just finished the first leg of seminars in India and am preparing for the next – in New Delhi and have three heavy pieces of luggage checked in.”
 
“You teach?” I asked conversationally.
 
“I am a minor consultant for a new method of networking start-up enterprises called business incubation. These are test-tubes where business foetuses are successfully conceived in the nearly sterile current financial atmosphere and later implanted into the real womb of global commerce, delivered and for good measure, incubated to help them live a long successful life,” he said.
 
I simply nodded.
 
“The British once ruled a huge parcel of mother earth not because of brawn, but brains – through a system known as colonialism – which in fact was one of the earliest forms of business incubation. A set of merchants created ideal conditions for their trade and continued profit. When the enterprises' administration became unwieldy, political powers - like the British Crown had to step in. However, the British government knew right from its moment of entry that one day it would have to vacate the vast real estate it did not own. One such safe exit route’s manifestation was the Indian National Congress – that took some twenty seven years – from 1858 to 1885 – between concept and creation. In a manner of speaking, that was the second major politico-economic incubation concept – networking a class of people to rule an financially viable, free India. In 1947, the British left with less than a scratch and we still do business with you beautifully.”
 
Obviously, this was not a casual conversation.
 
“Your glib generalisation and defence of colonialism has a flaw. Britain left a divided India – the second nation being Pakistan – created to hate us, fight us and bleed us eternally. That Pakistan is now giving the whole world the heebie-jeebies including Westminster,” I said.
 
“That much, one must admit, is partly true. Consider it our Vani... ahem... Vanit...ahem...vanity. I must stop smoking...the throat is almost gone for a six...”
 
I kept my expression deadpan.
 
“The term is also the first word of the title of the 1847 English literary classic – “Vanity Fair – “A novel without a Hero” authored by William Makepeace Thackeray. It is a critical comment on today's Western materialism. In 1857, the very year dubbed by British historians as The Sepoy Mutiny and by you as the First War of Indian Independence, another of our famous writers commented on the book by saying, ‘I am not conscious of being in any way a disciple of his, unless it constitute discipleship to think him, as I suppose the majority of people with any intellect do, on the whole, the most powerful of living novelists.’ I remember the quote verbatim because it was made by Mary Anne Evans – who called herself by the male non-de-plume George Eliot. Incidentally, my wife’s name is Mary Anne and mine is George Henry Eliot. My last name and Lewes –the novelist’s husband, of course are different. People in India rarely come across the spelling L-E-W-E-S. You generally are accustomed to Louis – its French equivalent.”
 
The man who called himself George Henry Eliot delved into his bag and produced a dog-eared copy of the novel and handed it over to me.
 
“I am sure you will like the book – even if you have read it already.”
 
An announcement on the public address system said the Air India flight bound for New Delhi was ready for departure.
 
The man who had called himself Eliot elaborately waved goodbye and walked away.
 
As my flight was scheduled to depart a good 35 minutes later, I lazily opened the book.
 
On the first page was a bookmark which had a neat womanly scrawl: “I wish I could hold your hand the way I did with my daughters, dear Amelia! God be with you! Stella Dench.”

 
Back to the future...
 
Deciphering the probable message was not too difficult.

In my trade, most things are surmises.
 
Amelia was the nicer of the two main female characters in George Eliot’s Vanity Fair and also Vanita’s codename. That the bad woman in the novel – Becky was hinted as a young prostitute by the late author indirectly confirming what I already knew.

The second half of Vanita's codename was “Louis” – so helpfully prompted by “Eliot”  as the corruption of “Lewes” triggered my discerning the unsaid English connection to Vanita.
 
The personal note attributed to “Stella Dench” was a deft touch.
 
Stella Rimington was the first female head of SIS, now retired and holding directorships in a number of British companies. 

The BBC quoted Stella as saying one of her daughters felt the actress Judi Dench who played “M” (the fictional head of MI6 in Bond films) held hands the way the spy queen did – another little nugget directing me towards a clearer British angle to the whole affair.
 
The clincher – of course was the kid.
 
He did not speak a word of English and was barely literate in Tamil.

Yet, he was in England, wearing British clothes waiting for me - holding a placard - in other words - leaving nothing to chance - another Pommie habit of tying up loose ends.

The boy could not have been an offspring born to me and Vanita as I had met her during a single-afternoon stand only four months ago.
 
The piece of paper handed over by the child giving his name as Shaalivahanan Shivapunniyam Vikram Rao was another little pointer meant to be understood and appreciated.
 
Since my medieval namesake Vikramaditya’s reign was replaced by Shaalivaahana, I deduced that it probably meant that the world’s intelligence forces were ready to close ranks in a new era wherein fresh agents will function with more effective methods.
 
In a roundabout way, I presumed that the unholy alliance between terrorist groups like the LTTE, Al Qaeda and the ‘legal’ entity called ISI - once the free world's financial conduit to fight the spread of communism - is finally on its last legs.

 

India is now probably one of the new frontiers to combat the Frankenstein in the very global political laboratory called the subcontinent where this monster presently spreading global terror was once created.

All these are purely my guesses.
 
I am now part of a business incubation endeavour in London – situated in the same Borough of Lambeth that encompasses Vauxhall Cross – generally identified as the location of MI6 Headquarters.

 

One thing, however, is certain.
 
Shaalivahanan will indeed grow up as my son – truly an irresistible, lovable responsibility.
 
Aren't young lives beautiful consequences of a few moments' love-making after all?


© Copyright 2020 TSV Hari. All rights reserved.

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